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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Updated: September 30, 2:42 PM ET
The future

By Joe Keller

According to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, between 1996 and 2006, the number of all hunters -- crossbow, bow and gun -- had decreased by 10 percent nationwide.

Another report shows there were nearly 20 million hunters back in 1975, and just over 12 million in 2006. By 2025 the number is projected to be about 9 million. "We are dying on the vine," said Daniel Hendricks, the editor of Horizontal Bowhunter. "Yet instead of doing something about saving our hunting heritage, a small and very vocal percentage of the modern bowhunter spends their time, energy and money trying to keep others out of the woods because they believe that their bow is better than the crossbow and that they should have the archery season all to themselves so that they get the first chance at the big bucks."

The philosophy makes it OK for them to be "anti-hunters," Hendricks said.

Hendricks firmly believes that crossbow hunters are different.

"The average crossbow hunter doesn't care what you hunt with just as long as you get out there and hunt, and that you take a child, woman or friend with you when you do it," he said.

If all hunters don't begin to see things that way, "then we will all be sitting on the outside looking in, and hunting will have become a victory for the animal-rights fanatic. Our passion will become a thing of the past."

Gary Socola, president of the vocal New York Bowhunters, agrees with Hendricks that hunting could decline even further. But he sees the decline coming from crossbow's further acceptance.

Socola paints a picture of a very different hunting nation if crossbow are allowed in more states' bow seasons -- more wounding of game in the field, disillusioned crossbow hunters, frustrated bow hunters and a decline in hunter participation.

Socola points to studies to back up his picture of the future. He notes some states, specifically Tennessee and Georgia, saw in dramatic increase in the number of hunting licenses sold the year crossbows were legalized in bow season. But then the numbers plateaued and eventually dropped lower than they had been before introducing crossbows into bow season.

According to Georgia Department of Natural Resources Deer Harvest Summaries, the number of archery licenses jumped from 97,000 in 2001-02 to more than 111,000 in 2002-03, the first year crossbows were allowed in bow season. The number soon slid to 88,000, 81,000 and 78,000 in 2005.

"I don't know why exactly, but I suspect it has to do with archers being disenfranchised. Maybe individuals bought crossbows and realized they were clunky and hard to use," Socola said. "Some people have even lost fingers with crossbows."

Fingers or no fingers, there was a drop as Socola noted. However, recently released numbers from Georgia muddy the picture further. The total number of archers who hunted in 2008-09 jumped back up 91,000.

Apparently the final word on the archery controversy has yet to have been spoken. Can we call it a draw?